There has been much discussion lately of the Obama administration's release of five Taliban terrorists in order to free Robert Bergdahl, an apparent military deserter. But SR has yet to see a straightforward presentation of the three simple truths that succinctly refute the regime's unyielding defense of this ill-considered deal. Let's review them here.
It all starts with the mantra endlessly repeated by Obama and his minions, as though its mere utterance should silence all objections to this sordid affair: The United States leaves no soldiers behind in enemy hands. No exceptions, no qualifications. Full stop. Therefore, insists Obama, it is pointless and obnoxious to critically examine the merits of the Taliban-for-Bergdahl Deal.
Three elemental considerations demonstrate the utter fallacy and simple dishonesty of the administration's position. There are other reasons to condemn the Bergdahl Deal -- like its flatly illegal consummation without prior notice to Congress -- but these are the fundamental flaws underlying this disastrous misadventure.
1. The "None Left Behind" Maxim is Neither Objectively True nor Unconditional. First, the "no soldier left behind" maxim (NSLB) is an honorable and demanding aspiration, not an unconditional mandate. As documented elsewhere, U.S. soldiers have sometimes been reluctantly or inadvertently left behind in captivity. See, e.g., www.dianawest.net (June 6, 2014). The peculiar circumstances or inaccessibility of some captives may sometimes make retrieval impracticable or impossible.
One notable example of the maxim's qualified character is the shadowy case of PFC Robert Garwood, who was captured in the Vietnam War in 1965. When other U.S. P.O.W.'s were released upon the peace settlement in 1973, Garwood remained behind in Vietnamese hands. The Defense Department later determined that he collaborated with the enemy. It was not until 1979 that he departed Vietnam on an Air France aircraft under ambiguous and shady circumstances -- but with no indication that the release resulted from U.S. recovery efforts, let alone any substantial trade-off. On the contrary, the U.S. military's primary objective in accepting Garwood was to court martial him for collaborating with the enemy.
The notion that the NSLB principle applies without any regard for the behavior and circumstances of the soldier in question is insupportable. This principle obviously originated with the object of recovering the brave and patriotic soldiers who have been captured in honorable combat. It was certainly not designed with the purpose of sacrificing the lives of good troops or the fruits of the battlefielld (e.g., enemy captives) to rescue or retrieve deserters or defectors.
In short, the "no soldier left behind" slogan invoked by Obama to silence criticism of his woeful deal with the Taliban thugs is not the absolute and unqualified rule that he pretends it to be. Rather, it is an honorable and compelling aspiration which circumstances and realities may sometimes prevent from being fulfilled. It does not perforce end all examination and questioning of a grossly disadvantageous prisoner exchange, as Obama would have it, but merely begins it.
Qatar: Dubious Halfway House for the Taliban Five
2. Limits on the "Price". The Obamacrats' exploitation of the "no soldier left behind" slogan is designed to bypass the hard reality that cost-benefit analysis must be applied to any prisoner exchange, let alone one as grossly exorbitant as the Bergdahl deal. Contrary to the administration's twisted arguments, both the price to be paid and the value and circumstances of the particular prisoner should and must be weighed in reaching any such deal with the enemy.
Even Obama's propagandists would (if pressed) be forced to concede that there are obvious limits on what the government should surrender in exchange for a detained soldier, even one of highest value. Not even the most deranged administration apologist would argue that the president could defensibly surrender a nuclear weapon, an arsenal of deadly military drones, or similar lethal military assets to an enemy like the Taliban -- even if they were uncompromisingly demanded as the price for the release of even an honorably captured soldier.
Here, the five liberated Taliban commanders were all classified by Obama's own Defense Department as presenting a "high risk" of launching attacks against the U.S. if released. Yet Obama and his courtiers indignantly bristle at any suggestion that this was too high a price to pay for the release of a self-absorbed soldier who had walked away from his unit, rather than being captured in combat.
The release of these malevolent terrorists obviously presents a substantial risk of future attacks against the U.S., its personnel, or its allies; indeed, Obama himself acknowledged that such risk is "absolutely" presented. Moreover, the regime's assurances that the exchange agreement provides adequate safeguards to assure the confinement and non-belligerence of the terrorists are hollow and misleading. No sooner did the Taliban Five arrive in the terrorist-friendly state of Qatar than their freedom to roam at large in that shadowy Arab emirate was revealed.
In that regard, it is highly significant that the actual content of the purported "agreement" with Qatar has been cloaked under the inevitable claim of confidentiality. Indeed, it is not even clear that there is an enforceable written agreement specifying the particulars of the terrorists' detention or the means to be applied to assure that they do not engage in terrorist-support or strategic activity while detained in Qatar. And of course, after one year, they are evidently free to return to the fray altogether.
This deal is outrageously inadequate from a national security standpoint even with what we do know about it, let alone what we do not know because of the administration's concealment.
Moreover, the administration's demonstration that it will indeed negotiate with and reward terrorists in order to retrieve captured U.S. personnel greatly strengthens the motivation of terrorists to seize Americans as hostages in danger zones all over the world.
These straightforward considerations refute Obama's perverse insistence that the ill-begotten Bergdahl deal is justified by mere invocation of the NSLB slogan. Soldiers go to war and fight to defend national security, not to be invoked as justifications for gravely compromising it. The negotiated release of five deadly Taliban terrorists presents a grave compromise of national security that the government would be hard-pressed to justify by the recovery of even an honorably captured and heroic soldier, let alone an apparent deserter like "Sgt." Bergdahl.
3. Value and Circumstances of the Prisoner. Obama and his minions have also insisted that any consideration of Bergdahl's deserter status or other possible perfidies is irrelevant and indecent, because the obligation to recover a soldier in enemy hands is unconditional. According to the administration, the military captive's relative merit or value, and the circumstances of his falling into enemy hands, are wholly irrelevant to the retrieval effort. This is arrant nonsense.
Initially, the case of a defector -- i.e., a soldier who not only deserts, but transfers allegiance to the cause of the enemy -- is decisively different than that of an honorably captured soldier. Benedict Arnold's desertion and defection to the British cause following his treachery at West Point during the Revolutionary War is a classic illustration. General Washington was prepared to go to great lengths to recapture Arnold, but hardly for purposes of a joyful reconciliation and welcome home celebration. On the contrary, Washington's object was to execute the defector. He commissioned no less a figure than the Marquis de Lafayette to lead an expedition against Arnold's British command. As related in Dave Palmer's excellent book, George Washington and Benedict Arnold (Regnery Pub. 2006), General Washington instructed Lafayette as follows:
Should Arnold "fall into your hands," the Virginian
coldly told Lafayette, you are to execute him "in the
most summary way." Id. at p. 377.
In this regard, there appears to be no reliable evidence that Bergdahl defected to the Taliban cause, although there have been second-hand reports that he might have "declared jihad" during the course of his captivity. See, e.g., Fox News report of June 6, 2006. http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/06/06/exclusive-bergdahl-declared-jihad-secret-documents-show/. Whatever the motives of Bergdahl's apparent desertion, they are hardly comparable to Benedict Arnold's treacheries.
Yet the critical point remains: the motives and circumstances under which a soldier falls into enemy hands can and should be weighed in determining the sacrifices or concessions to be made in seeking his recovery. It is specious to contend that the government should not go to greater lengths to recover a heroic warrior honorably captured in combat than it would pursue seeking to recover a deserter who placed his mates at risk by his desertion.
In short, a high-cost exchange that might be justified to recover a captured Audie Murphy -- although it is hard to imagine the ultra-heroic Murphy being captured -- might well be considered excessive in the case of a dishonorable deserter.
Contrary to the insidious distortions of Obama's programmed apologists, none of this is to suggest that the United States was not justified in taking strenuous measures to recover Bergdahl. Such measures were promptly and vigorously undertaken by the Army, in the form of all-out search-and-recovery operations. Indeed, the loss of some six fellow soldiers in those and related operations more than lived up to the principle later invoked by Obama to justify the Bergdahl Deal.
Not only did Obama's government imprudently negotiate with terrorists, they were shamefully out-negotiated by a band of primitive Islamic thugs.
The case is clear. Obama's invocation of the NSLB principle cannot obscure the fact that he authorized a dangerous compromise of national security that cannot be justified by a misguided compulsion to pay any price to recover an apparent military deserter. Least of all when an exorbitant price had already been paid in the loss of good soldiers' lives in connection with the Army's heroic retrieval efforts in the field.
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Note: For those on the left who (ignoring their own pampered millennial lifestyles) enjoy attacking the credibility of anyone who questions Obama's military policies if they have not themselves served in the military, please note that SR served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1964 to 1968 and received, inter alia, the Vietnam Service Medal and Vietnam Campaign Medal.
Update: Subsequent to publication, the administration asserted in hearings before the House Armed Services Committee that some form of memorandum of agreement was entered into with Qatar by a Defense Department lawyer, purporting to set terms governing the five Taliban terrorists' status in that emirate. The purported agreement was not produced at the hearing but would supposedly be revealed in a so-called classified session -- i.e., so its terms would not be seen by the public. In any event, it has already been reported that Qatar, unsurprisingly, is not honoring the agreement.